*Note, most of these tips also apply to craigslist, OfferUp and other online auto-listing systems.
*As we are writing this guide with the mind-set that our own daughter is grown up and preparing to buy a car with only this a reference we are doing our best to make sure to keep the buyer as safe as possible while minimizing the potential to get ‘ripped-off’. Hence, some of these tips may seem a bit extreme but if you truly want to be as safe as possible, follow these guidelines.
If you’re looking to buy a car, there’s a good chance you’ve already done a search for your preferred model on Facebook. Here’s a quick guide on how to find the right car, for a great deal, safely.
As Facebook has quickly become much more then simply a platform for people to connect to one-another the social media giant seems to be taking over all aspects of online activities, including all things related to online sales from classifieds to e-commerce solutions for business owners.
With billions of users actively using the app for all things from reviewing favorite coffee shops to selling old collectables, it’s no wonder why the auto industry has become a big part of the action.
The Rise of Online Selling
Back in 2000 newspapers were the primary sources for individuals and businesses alike to advertise their automobiles. Since then, online options such as Craigslist and Ebay have slowly taken huge bites out of the paper-based giants of yester-years. With Facebook opening up it’s own online Marketplace in 2016 the social media giant has taken up a huge amount of the industry and is foretasted to continue it’s ever increasing marketshare.
Buying New VS. Used on Facebook
Firstly, the most direct difference is going to be the seller. If you want to buy brand new, you will have to buy from a dealership. Reliability is the primary upside when buying new car. For more information on the choosing new vs. used, view this article we put together.
One additional benefit of buying new from a dealership; Trust. The potential of getting scammed or worse is significantly less when buying from a dealership as long as the individual representing the dealership has a trusted profile and good seller reviews. Not all used cars are sold by private parties, in fact there are currently more used cars listed by dealerships on Marketplace than any other car/seller combo.
How to buy safely on Facebook
Only buy locally
Although Facebook will default to showing you the local listings, it is likely that you will start scrolling down the page, well past your local results. If you are searching for a very specific model vehicle it is also possible there may be little to no results in your area. Often, buyers may find it reasonable to drive to a nearby town in the event the vehicle is worth the extra effort. However, never send anyone money to “hold a car”, regardless of their location, how rare the car or great the deal.
View the sellers profile
Once you find a car you are interested in, click on the user’s name to view their profile. If the user has only a few friends or has a profile which is a few years or less old, these are warning signs that the user may be operating illegitimately.*It is also now possible for qualifying dealerships to list cars with their business page instead of their personal profile. If this is case, view the businesses facebook page and look for reviews/recommendations. Next, go over to Google and search the companies name. If they do not have a directly matching business name this is a red-flag. If they do, check out their Google reviews to decide if this company is worth your time.
Before you see the car in-person:
Ask for the VIN
Having been in the car buying and selling business for decades, Ryan Kashtan of OfferMORE suggests: “Always ask for the VIN and spend the couple bucks to have a CarFax report ran, otherwise you are relying on the seller to provide accurate information.” Although a VIN-based history report on the vehicle may not have all the facts, it could save you a trip in the event it shows a long history of accidents and potentially even a bad title.
Is the deal “Too Good To Be True?”
If the car you’ve found is such a good deal that you want to jump out of your seat and go straight off to meet the seller, there’s a good chance a ‘bait-and-switch’ awaits you. This tactic has become more and more popular with car dealerships as they will advertise your ‘perfect car’ only to inform it “just sold” moments before you arrived, or “the inventory list was inaccurate”. There is no way to prove them wrong without an inside man or whistle blower so the scam is a constant issue within the auto sales industry.
How to prevent becoming a victim of the ‘bait-and-switch’
Ask the seller to send you an image of the vehicle from a very specific angle or even:
“Hi, I fear this may be a bait-and-switch car so I would like you to prove the car’s authenticity. Would you please send me an image of the car with you holding up three fingers in front of it?”.
This may seem a bit ‘over-the-top’ but so long as the seller is honest, they likely wont mind the extra leg work and oblige the request.
Don’t haggle yet!
We see this failure all the time. Buyers want to offer less then the asking price via the Facebook messenger app and sure, often times you will get the seller down to a lower price but we can just about guarantee you can get the price lower if you do your bargaining in person. If you offer too low via the app it is also possible the seller becomes offended and blocks you entirely.
Let’s say your looking at a car listed for $5,000 and you want to offer $4,000. You send the message and the seller comes back with “no, but I can come down to $4,500”. You then agree to a price $4,300. Upon seeing the car in person you realize there are a few scratches you couldn’t see in the images and possibly some stains in the carpet or engine issues. However, you’ve already agreed to a price and these new findings can’t help you. Had you waited, you could have had some ammo behind your lower offer. Also, cash is king. When it comes time to make an offer, so long as you are 100% sure of your safety, you can use the ‘flash-the-cash’ tactic; offering a significantly lower offer while immediately flashing the cash triggers an effect within sellers that often times compels them to sell at the lower price point.
The ‘first-look’ at your potential new car
If you are buying from a seller who’s working at a dealership you will of course be headed to their lot location to inspect the vehicle. If the seller wants to meet outside of regular business hours (9-5), be sure to call the dealerships listed phone number by Googling the business name and calling the number you find online and request for the operator to verify the salesmen’s employment at the business.
Buying from a private party
(that is, someone who does not work for a dealership and instead is listing their car as a private seller)? Be sure to meet at a ‘safe-zone’ unless you are 100% certain they are trustworthy. It’s possible they are friends of a friend whom you have confirmed is a trustworthy individual. Next, have a mechanic check it out followed by doing the title and transaction at the DMV or your bank.
The 3 Meeting Points for the Private Party Auto Purchase:
- Safe-zones for initial inspection and test drive
- Trusted auto-mechanic
- DMV or Bank
Extra safety for private party Facebook transactions
Most cities in the U.S. Allow citizens to complete “craigslist transactions” on Police station parking lots. The term “craigslist transaction” has become popular and local municipality have even began using the term in recent years. A bit of research and we were able to find that although the term “Craigslist” is most often used, these ‘safe-zones’ are available to any type of person-to-person transaction, regardless of how the individuals connected.
Test Drive Thoroughly
Test drive the car both at low and high speeds. We suggest taking the car onto the interstate as certain mechanical issues, such as a slightly bent frame may only be noticeable at highway speeds. If the seller does not want to allow such speeds, its’ a red flag and you may want to continue your search.
Mechanically inclined? If there is anything wrong with your potentially new car the seller will be hoping you are not. Be sure to either take a mechanic with you to inspect the vehicle, or have the seller meet you with the car at an auto mechanic shop you trust. If the car is of low-value, have your mechanic do a simple inspection and short test-drive. If it is a medium to high value car, costing in excess of $4,000, we suggest paying the mechanic to perform a much more thorough inspection of the vehicle to insure there are no issues with the engine, frame, computer or other potentially costly areas of the vehicle. Spending a hundred bucks and possibly wasting that money in the event a large issue is found is money well wasted as opposed to spending thousands a week after purchasing the car. Sure, there is such thing as “Lemon Law” in the state of Florida but if the seller wants to fight such a case, they certainly can and this would be a nightmare scenario for any buyer.Sunroof & leaky windows?
If you want to make sure there are no leaks, hit the roof with a hose to verify the sunroof is still fully sealed and no window seems are worn out.
DMV or Bank
Now that you’ve got the confidence the car is mechanically sound it’s time to buy. Make sure the seller has the title in hand and perform the final transaction at either the bank or DMV. We suggest using a cashiers check written out to the sellers name to minimize risks.If you live in the Tampa Bay / Clearwater / Pinellas area, here’s a great resource for finding a nearby ‘safe-zone’
Sell BEFORE you Buy
Be sure to sell your current car, truck or SUV before you buy something new. By selling first, you will have strong buying power with the ability to pay cash, whether buying from a dealership or private party. If you need help in preparing your car to get the highest offer, read our in-depth guide.